Young People Ask . . .
Could I Be Hurt by Peer Pressure?
WHY would three young men get into a car trunk and during a short ride on a winter night gulp down a bottle of wine, a six-pack of beer and a pint of whiskey? Had someone threatened their lives if they refused? No. They wanted to be accepted into the most prestigious men’s club on their college campus and were willing to undergo this initiation rite. Thereby they would prove worthy of the approval of their esteemed peers.
However, when that night was over the three were unconscious and one was turning blue. Soon nineteen-year-old Chuck was dead from acute alcohol poisoning. It was claimed that no one forced Chuck to drink more than his customary few beers. “But when you’re in that heavy, verbal peer pressure situation it all becomes different,” reported his mother. “The whole world hates a chicken.” In Chuck’s case gaining the acceptance of his peers cost his life.
You may be thinking: ‘That is an extreme example. It could never happen to me.’ Yet it vividly illustrates the power of peer pressure. If you have ever had the dilemma of struggling to please old friends or fit in with new ones, then you know that peer pressure is a reality. Research studies have demonstrated that one of the major influences in our lives has to do with being a member of a group. So, handling peer pressure is vital as you mature.
A Part of Growing Up
We all need to conform to proper standards of conduct imposed by society. Because of inexperience, young persons are bound to have some “rough edges” of their personality that need smoothing. Practical indeed is the Bible proverb (Pr 27:17): “By iron, iron itself is sharpened. So one man sharpens the face of another.” Just as an iron file can sharpen the dulled edge of a knife, so your fellowship with others can ‘sharpen’ your personality. Such interaction with others can make you a better person as well as refresh you. The support from a peer group whose influence is healthy can even help make up for the lack of a parent or proper attention at home.
Naturally as you mature you will be more conscious of how others view you. You want to fit in. You soon learn that those who are popular seem to have the most fun. “You care so much about being accepted by other kids,” said Debbie. “When I was eighteen I dreaded the thought of being unpopular because I would have no one to invite me out for a good time. I feared I would be isolated and not asked to join in on the fun or I would be called an old fuddy-duddy who couldn’t do anything.”
Who Causes the Most Pressure?
“The people whose ways we like and the group we want to be part of have the greatest influence on us,” noted Professor James Comer of the Yale Child Center. These ones put us under the greatest pressure.
For instance, Debbie explained that while in school there were some youngsters who did not care about anything, including their grades. They were looked down upon by others. “It didn’t matter to you at all what their opinion was of you,” admitted Debbie. “But there were others who excelled in school and I wanted to have their approval. When these would look down on me it would make me want to go into a corner and just never come out. I would feel useless, no good. It was as if I was a little nobody who couldn’t do anything right.”
Debbie for some time did things to gain the acceptance of these peers so that she could fit in. You may know how she felt. Have you ever worn clothes you didn’t really like, just to win the approval of other kids? Has your speech or grooming ever been influenced? Then you, too, have experienced peer pressure.
However, many teens object to the thought that their actions are dictated by peer pressure. Many feel as did seventeen-year-old Susie who said, “Another kid can’t really make you do anything you don’t want to do.” However, peer pressure can be so subtle that it is not immediately recognized as such. A Bible example of a man with high principles who succumbed to peer pressure shows its insidious, yet relentless power.
The Apostle Peter and His Peers
The apostle Peter was one of the pillars of Christianity. He was a bold man with strong convictions. At first Christianity was made up solely of persons who were natural Jews, like Peter, or Jewish proselytes. Such persons avoided non-Jews, or Gentiles, even looking down on these. However, God revealed in a vision to Peter that non-Jewish persons from all nations and races could become Christians and thereby be acceptable to God. So Peter changed his thinking. Instead of avoiding non-Jews, he helped them spiritually and even ate with them. Later he valiantly defended his actions before the leaders of early Christianity.—Acts 10:28; 11:1-18.
Time passed and Peter became situated in a city wherein many non-Jews had become Christians. While there in Antioch he freely socialized with these Gentile Christians, eating meals with them. However, one day some representatives from the Jerusalem congregation visited Antioch. These men, Jewish Christians, still disliked socializing with non-Jews, or Gentiles. Peter knew their feelings. How would he respond?
When they arrived Peter separated himself from the Gentile Christians and would no longer eat with them. He went against the very principles he earlier defended! Why? Because Peter was afraid of offending these visitors. Obviously Peter valued their opinion of him. He could have felt, ‘I’ll just bend a little now while they’re here and continue eating with the Gentiles after they’re gone. Why ruin my rapport with them over such a small thing?’—Galatians 2:11-14.
How subtle! The Bible says that Peter and others who were influenced by his bad example were putting on a “pretense,” or pretending to do something that they really did not believe. In other words, the peer pressure had made Peter a pretender who rejected his own principles.
If this could happen to a mature Christian, one of the twelve apostles, could it not also happen to you? Peter was soundly corrected—in public—by the apostle Paul because he “stood condemned.” Suppose you let peer pressure influence you in a moment of weakness. If you do something wrong, how will you feel about it later? Won’t your conscience condemn you? You may even get caught and hurt your reputation. Is it worth it?
Yet not all peer pressure is bad. How can you benefit from good peer pressure and avoid the bad? The following issue of Awake! will provide some helpful answers.
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Just as an iron file can smooth off rough edges on a knife, so there are qualities in our personality that can be sharpened by good peer influence
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Peer pressure can influence the way we dress and groom ourselves. There is a need for us to develop our own thinking ability
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Even the apostle Peter was hurt by peer pressure. Could peer pressure also affect you adversely?